Preparing Team Echinacea for a safe summer 2020

Hello Echination! It sure has been a long time since I last flogged, and I really have missed giving fun updates to folks both in the lab and online. Over the past few months, members of Team Echinacea have been stuck at home due to the ongoing global pandemic. We have spent a lot of time working on existing projects, preparing for data collection in the field, and meeting with colleagues over Zoom. However, due to the current situation, there is one project that has taken precedence over all others: our Covid-19 preparedness plan.

Although we have been shut out of the Chicago Botanic Garden for some time, we are fortunate to have been granted permission to conduct field work in Minnesota. Each field season is incredibly important for Team Echinacea, as this is when we collect a large amount of data and harvest specimens to be processed in the lab. Because Echinacea angustifolia is a long-lived plant, it is imperative we conduct field work in MN as much as possible, so we can gather accurate estimates of lifetime fitness in our self-incompatible perennial forb and assess whether remnant populations will persist in West Central MN. That said, there is something even more important than conducting long-term ecological research: the health and safety of humans.

Over the last few weeks, the Echinacea lab core members have assembled a dream team of past, present, and future team members to construct a plan to prioritize safety during the field season while still allowing for the efficient collection of high-quality demographic and fitness data on Echinacea angustifolia. The Covid-preparedness team consists of: Stuart, Ruth, Erin, Riley, Amy D., Amy W., Drake, Lea, Mia Stevens, Jared Beck, and John “Texas” VanKempen. What a team! The first thing we did to prepare for a socially-distant field season was to read interesting articles about Covid transmission, best business practices for Covid, and government recommendations; we then shared these articles with the group. Next, we discussed what we learned from these articles and then broke into small groups to discuss minimizing transmission probability during every-day tasks. For example, I was on teams that discussed how to reduce potential Covid transmission while eating lunch, syncing visors, and engaging in team building activities. From there, we reconvened as a group and shared our optimal plans for each activity. To solidify our ideas, we put all of our ideas into a “Covid-19 Preparedness Plan” – a template created by the State of Minnesota for reopening businesses. We hope to share a draft with all summer 2020 team members soon, and we will certainly document our plan on the flog in the coming weeks!

We learned a lot during this process, and we are looking forward to getting back out into the field with our ever-friendly study species. Many feelings are invoked by the thought of field season, including excitement, stress, adventure, nostalgia, and most importantly, the feeling of community. Obviously, being a part of a community is personally gratifying, but this summer, it is imperative that we come together as a community to keep each other healthy and safe. I can personally say I am incredibly excited to spend part of my summer with Team Echinacea, but I can also say I am nervous about being on a field team in light of the ongoing global situation. However, I know that if I look out for others and if they look out for me, Team Echinacea will be healthy, efficient, and as fun as ever.

Due to the global pandemic, we warned Echinacea that they may actually benefit from isolation in summer 2020. Many responded by purchasing masks from their local party supply store.

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